The Catholic Thing
Causes of Rain and Sources of Violence in Nigeria Print E-mail
By Robert Reilly   
Saturday, 14 January 2012

This past Christmas, an Islamist group in northern Nigeria, Boko Haram, bombed two Christian churches, killing more than forty people, including thirty-seven parishioners as they came out of the packed Christmas morning Mass in St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla. Many others were injured. Its current leader, Imam Abubakar Shekau, has warned of more attacks. Why? And what is the relationship between this group's view of reality and the violence it practices?

Founded by Mohammed Yusuf (1970–2009) in 2002, Boko Haram aims at establishing a Sharia government. The group's official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad. Its slang name loosely translates as, “Western [non-Islamic] education is sacrilege.”

In a state security interrogation, Yusuf apparently proclaimed: “All knowledge that contradicts Islam is prohibited by the Almighty.” What kind of knowledge might this be? In an interview with the BBC just before being killed by Nigerian forces in 2009, Yusuf explained:

there are prominent Islamic preachers who have seen and understood that the present Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam. Like rain. We believe it is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain. Like saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it.

In this statement, Yusuf shows that he is completely familiar with the scientific explanation for rain, but states that he must reject it for religious reasons. This will strike many as odd, even eccentric, but this view has deep roots in a large part of Sunni Islam. It goes back to the conception of God’s omnipotence and the problem of causality in the natural world.

Here is the dilemma: If God is not the cause of everything, can He be omnipotent? In other words, if God does not directly cause the rain, but it is caused by intervening natural forces (secondary causes in technical philosophical terms), are not those natural forces in competition with God? If A must cause B in the physical world (as in condensation causing rain), does this not exclude God or at least limit his freedom?

These, of course, are very real theological and philosophical problems with which every form of monotheism has struggled. Ash’arite theology, which dominates in Sunni Islam, concluded that, if God is omnipotent, nothing else can be so much as potent.

This means that there can be no such thing as natural law or cause and effect in the natural world. As a consequence, everything that happens becomes the equivalent of a miracle because God does it directly.

         Imam Abubakar Shekau, current leader of Boko Haram

This view has real-world effects. During the rule of General Zia ul-Haq in Pakistan, the weather reports were suspended from the media for several years because of complaints by Muslim clerics that they were impious. If God causes the weather without intermediary, how can you possibly predict what He is going to do next? Since there is no inherent order in the realm of nature, who is to say whether it will rain or snow? The claim to such knowledge is blasphemously pretentious.

A friend of mine living in Bahrain was conversing with a very sophisticated Arab businessman, who told him that he was going to take his family on vacation at the end of Ramadan, but his departure was uncertain because it would depend on the sighting of the new moon.

My friend informed him that this was no problem; he could tell him when the new moon would appear. “How could this be?” asked the Arab. Because, my friend responded, “I have a Farmer's Almanac.” The Arab businessman informed my friend that no one could possess this knowledge. He would have to wait until the imam actually sighted the new moon.

A more profound problem arises in respect to the use of violence in advancing faith. Is this morally permissible? That is the question Benedict XVI raised in the Regensburg Lecture. Can you know that it is unreasonable to employ violence to advance faith, short of your revelation telling you so? And how, in the first place, does reason becomes the standard for what is moral and immoral?

Reflecting upon the order in nature, the Greek philosophers concluded that God is logos. It was the rational order inherent in created things that led to an apprehension of the order in God as reason itself. If God is reason, then behaving unreasonably becomes a moral problem. And it would seem to be unreasonable to use force against conscience regarding faith.

What happens, however, if you begin with an a priori assumption that there is no rational order in nature because it would impinge upon God's omnipotence? Would this not also mean that God is not logos? If God is not reason, then there is no barrier to the employment of violence in advancing faith. The combination of this view with a scriptural endorsement of armed jihad is lethal.

This is the theology that allows radical Muslims to translate their version of God’s omnipotence into a politics of unlimited power (which they also use against other Muslims). As God’s instruments, they are channels for this power.

This is what led Osama bin Laden to embrace the astonishing statement of his spiritual godfather, Abdullah Azzam, which Osama quoted in the November 2001 video, released after 9/11: “Terrorism is an obligation in Allah’s religion.” This can only be true – that violence in spreading faith is an obligation – if, as Benedict XVI said in Regensburg, God is without reason.

If God is without reason, you cannot predict the weather, but you can force your neighbor to comply with your religion or kill him if he won’t. This is the logic behind Boko Haram and its murderous Christmas bombings.

Robert Reilly is a former director of Voice of America. He has taught at the National Defense University and served in the White House and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. His most recent book is The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist.

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (10)Add Comment
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, January 14, 2012
The Christian understanding preserves the Divine omnipotence by holding that God eternally decrees, not only the events that come to pass, but the causes of them and the order in which those causes operate.
written by Other Joe, January 14, 2012
Stepping blithely in where angels (and the smart) fear to dip a toe - let me observe that God is omnipotent in the sense that He created all that was, is, and ever will be out of true nothing (not from a bubbling caldron of quantum possibilities which is not nothing). God is not omnipotent in the sense that He can do anything. He can not make a rock too big for Him to lift because He does not engage in nullity. Our gift of sovereignty of will in a wholly created universe is an expression of divine love. There is a terrible price to pay for free will and that price is sin and the possibility of turning away from God. Only if God is a loving God can we be free to reject Him. Because He is a loving God, He can (or will) not relieve us of our freedom and duty to choose good and avoid evil. Thus omnipotence is informed by love and co-generates justice. A purely omnipotent god, all cause and no love leaves no room for sovereignty of will. The lives of individuals under such a god are as meaningless as photons. They may be turned off or turned on with no moral consequence. Our tradition reminds us that in the beginning was the Word, or Logos or reason. It doesn’t say that in the beginning was power.
written by Clement_W, January 14, 2012
I am a very committed Catholic and believe what the Lord says about Laws. God did not create the universe to be chaotic and made laws first for Nature to exist by laws such as the laws of Gravity and motion. Surprisingly, the laws motion are amazingly applicable to human behaviour as well. For example, the 3rd. Law of Motion states that action and reaction are equal and opposite. This is illustrated by the human response to a law such as the 55mph. speed limit of Jimmy Carter's days, there were many more drivers driving faster than 55mph than when Reagan changed the limit to 70mph on controlled access highways.

Similarly, the Ten Commandments, simple and easy to understand as they are, have been broken from the very moment of their promulgation by Moses. The Lord sent his only Son to simplify it and at the same time, brought the New Covenant and opening the Gates of Heaven. Yet, inspite of all God's efforts, humankind has found a go around even to that. The schism between the Catholic Church and Science has ended up by creating an Idol, namely Science which started with the persecution of Galileo. Did it have to take until John Paul II to try to set this right? No, but the 3rd. Law of Motion was in effect.

Do not also forget what God said about the descendants of Ishmael, the Arabs, the prsent day Sunnis. The Lord says very clearly what he is in Isaiah 55 but in our arrogance and pride, we have tried to circumscribe God by our laws for Him to abide by as WE, the Christians, have been doing since just after Apostolic times and the Sunnis who came on the scene 600 years later, are doing. The 3rd. Law in action again and again.
written by TheInformer, January 14, 2012
How many times have you heard a decent sermon during a decent, solid Mass which would prepare you for this potential martyrdom as you left Mass?

Too many of our priests and people don't know the solid food of the Catholic Faith and are too afraid to truly live the Catholic Religion. Instead, they perform false charity and activism. Makes me hurl!

.............and we will die in our sins!
written by Louise, January 14, 2012
"The Regesburg Lecture" by Fr. James Schall!!!!!!!!!!!
written by Paul L., January 14, 2012
Dear TheInformer, the sermon will not prepare you for martyrdom: the Sacraments of Baptism, Confession and Eucharist do that.
written by Dave, January 14, 2012
Dear Paul: You're right, but I wish we were fed from the Word as well as we are from the Altar. Faith comes from hearing, says the Good Book, and not from reception of the sacraments; we all know of far too many people who regularly receive the sacraments but live in dissent and, alas, mortal sin.
written by Linus, January 14, 2012
If this is true then the only way of dealing with these people is to destroy them before they destroy us.They have declared war on all non-Muslims, we must defend ourselves. In fact, it is the only answer, you sure can't reason with them.
written by Dave, January 14, 2012
Dear Paul, would that the Catholic faithful were as richly nourished by Word as by Sacrament. Faith comes from hearing, says Blessed Paul, not from reception of the sacraments, a sad truth borne out too well in our own country and throughout the West. The Fathers of the Church are known not for their celebration of the sacraments, though celebrate them they did, but rather for their ministry of the Word, in preaching and teaching. TheInfomer makes a great point.
written by Kinana, January 16, 2012
Boko Haram is just one group of many who actually believe what Islam teaches. Robert Reilly correctly lays out the philosophical and religious problems. Force and domination is the way of Islam; all Muslims are taught such principles and many many Muslims believe it and act on it. I fear that what Linus says is true and may come to pass on a wide scale. However, I still hold out hope for other ways forward like mass conversions of Muslims throughout the world, combined with a system or process of containment which would protect Non-Muslims.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


Other Articles By This Author